Marketing Director, Denio’s Farmers Market & Swap Meet
Clad in a faded Star Wars T-shirt, Kevin Hernandez begins introducing elated kids to Darth Vader and Rey Skywalker in the flesh. The children start getting light saber training from these live-action characters, slashing and twirling their replica space swords around the heart of Denio’s Farmers Market & Swap Meet. For more than 75 years, Roseville’s selling staple has evolved in new directions, though the fun theme park mania that’s now underway is a touch that is entirely from Hernandez, a culture and entertainment reporter who took the helm of Denio’s marketing in 2021.
Hernandez soon jumps behind the wheel of an extended golf cart he calls “the limo.” His costumed actors climb in behind him, and soon the limo is zipping through a 40-acre maze of novelties, art, produce and trinket treasures. As Hernandez maneuvers down its corridors, he passes more attractions that he’s brought in: The spinning teacups ride that gets kids smiling and occasionally vomiting up their slushies; the concessions stand pouring Big Jim Denio American Lager, named after Denio’s founder, that’s specially brewed here in Roseville; the museum-like collection of antique buggies and wagons once belonging to the late Big Jim himself — a historic display meant as Hernandez’s follow-up to a recent documentary he oversaw on the Denio family.
Stopping at a booth where Nintendo tunes bleep to the beat and Jamaican steel drums gleam in the sun, Hernandez suddenly calls out to a family that’s coming down the fairway. “Do you want your pictures taken with them?” he asks, motioning to his Star Wars legends in tow.
Hernandez is talking to the youngsters, though one of their fathers jumps for the opportunity.
“Dude, my mom is going to die!” the man gushes to Darth Vader. “I grew up with you!”
And now Hernandez is smiling too. This is exactly the kind of atmosphere he’s been working to create at Denio’s.
“It’s very seldom that a business has been around this long,” he reflects. “But what I’m trying to put out there is that we aren’t a one-stop shop — we really are a full experience.”
Hernandez, who was raised in the farmlands of Yolo County, started focusing his talents on the market and swap meet after stints with “Good Day Sacramento” and the Roseville Chamber of Commerce. For him, the Denio’s job was a natural fit, having fallen in love with South Placer County back in 2005 when he started classes at Sierra College. Hernandez eventually transferred to Sacramento State University, though he kept living in Roseville.
“I’ve just always liked it here,” he notes with a shrug. “Friends have asked me about that — I’ve just always felt a connection.”
It was Hernandez’s eight years on both sides of the camera at “Good Day Sacramento” that first introduced him to the Denio family. When he was later hired as the Roseville chamber’s events coordinator in 2017, he got to know the clan’s third generation — Big Jim’s grandkids Tracie and Eric Denio — a lot better. The siblings wanted help introducing their landmark business to people who had moved to the area more recently, folks who didn’t necessarily hold an automatic association between Roseville and Denio’s. Though Hernandez had plenty on his plate, including volunteering with the local nonprofit Gone But Not Forgotten, which supports families experiencing trauma, he eventually accepted that challenge.
Since then, Hernandez has been promoting all the elements that people love about Denio’s while shining its allure with new features for new fans. That’s included boosting the live music at its relatively new concert stage and creating his “Magic Mornings at the Market,” which brings in costumed actors that range from Disney princesses in the spring to the “Nightmare Before Christmas” icons at Halloween time.
“There’s a lot that we have to compete with now,” Hernandez acknowledges. “But the rewarding thing about this job is that Denio’s means so much to people. There are locals walking around today who have literally grown up in this market. I love that — and never get tired of hearing and sharing their stories.”
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